The difference between Carbohydrates, fats and protein

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Carbohydrates, fats and protein are the 3 macronutrients our body requires to function. For instance, all three provide energy to our body so we can perform our daily activities, exercise, and even think. There are some differences between the three:

  1. Sources
  2. The amount of energy they provide
  3. The way they are digested
  4. The way they affect weight loss

Let’s take a look.

What are carbohydrates, fats and protein?

Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are the three main macronutrients, and whatever you consume will fall into one of these categories. However, when you eat a meal, you will normally consume a mixture of these. For example, you can’t eat potatoes and expect to consume carbs only, you will also consume fats and proteins.. just in smaller quantities. Potatoes will fall into the category of carbohydrates simply because they contain more carbohydrates than any other macro-nutrient. It is exactly the same with any other foods.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates provide the body with energy, and consist of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Carbs are starchy carbs, fibres and simple sugars mostly found in bread, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products (, 2019). However, when digested, these take the form of glucose (sugars) (, 2018). Carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy for our body (Sawicka, 2019).

Amount of energy provided by carbohydrates?

The biggest purpose of consuming carbohydrates is to get energy for the brain and body functions. Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per 1 gram of carbohydrate. Think of calories as you would about kilograms, these are simply a unit of measurement. Kilograms are a measurement of weight, and calories are a measurement of energy. It is not a physical thing.

When you eat any meal, you are not eating calories, you are eating either carbs, fats or protein that contain units of energy.

Digestion of carbohydrates

When you consume carbohydrates, they get broken down into glucose. Glucose are simple sugars which are the main and preferred source of energy  for our body. Whatever you do, daily activities or exercise, your body will use up your glucose stores first.

When the carbs are digested, our blood sugar spikes. This causes the pancreas to release a hormone called insulin, which will force the blood sugar (glucose) into body tissues (Sawicka, 2019). For example, into muscles, fats and liver. This lowers blood sugar levels and allows our body to store the sugars from carbohydrates in our liver and other body tissues.

How do carbohydrates affect weight loss?

Carbohydrates cause our body to release insulin which causes the sugars to be transported and stored in body tissues like the muscles and liver. These sugars are also the main and preferable sources of energy. This means that when you exercise, cardio or weights, your body will use these sugars for energy before it can begin to tap into your body’s fat stores. This means that for the first 15-30 mins, your body will be burning those sugars before you begin to lose body fat. Therefore, it is recommended to exercise for longer than 30 mins if your goal is to lose bodyweight (Sawicka, 2019).

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What are fats?

Fats provide the most amount of energy out of all the macronutrients, 9 calories per 1 gram of fat. Fats can be found in certain vegetables (avocados and eggs), nuts seeds and certain meats (, 2019). It is in their structure and function that makes them the preferred macronutrient for storage in our body Fats are essential for many body functions:

  • The fat under the skin provides insulation, keeps skin hydrates and maintains heat
  • Protects our body cells
  • Transports vitamins like A D E K which can only be transported in fats.

When fats are digested, they are broken down into free fatty acids. (Sawicka, 2019)

Digestion of fats

Fats are broken down into free fatty acids that will become involved in the bodily functions above. It is also said that fats help to keep you satiated for longer as well as help with any inflammation. Any excess of fats will get stored in your body fat mass (Sawicka, 2019).

The effects of fats on weight loss

Our ability to gain weight or regulate our appetite is controlled by a number of hormones. Consuming fats will not automatically make your body fat to accumulate. One of the hormones involved in regulating our weight and appetite is insulin, and insulin is released as a result of consuming carbohydrates.

Fats affect our weight loss due to the amount of calories they provide, 9 calories per 1 gram of fat. This is higher than any other macro-nutrient, which means it is much easier to overeat on fats than any other macro-nutrient. The technicalities behind this are that, if you eat more calories (more energy) than what your body can burn or use in that given day, you will gain weight (Sawicka, 2019).

What are proteins?

Proteins are organic compounds  made from 20 amino acids. There are 12 of which are created within our body whilst the other 8 are obtained from our diet. Protein sources include  meats, seafood, nuts, legumes, some dairy products and eggs. (, 2019).

Proteins are involved in a number of body functions like strengthening hair, skin and nail as well as muscle building and recovery. Proteins are also important for protecting our body from illnesses and viruses. They are not just useful for building muscle. In fact, if you consume proteins outside a 45 minute window after exercise, you will simply be eating additional calories. At that point they can take any amino acid form they want to and conduct any of the above functions.

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macronutrient cheat sheet

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How much energy do proteins provide?

Proteins provide 4 calories per 1 gram of protein.

Digestion of proteins.

When you consume protein they are broken down into amino acids. Our body will signal what it requires for the consumed protein to do, recover or assist with. This will force the proteins to take a structure of certain amino acids which will help with the function our body requires it to take. Any excess protein will convert into glucose (sugars), and stored as energy for later or excreted.

How do proteins affect weight loss?

High protein diets help maintain muscle mass which aids in shedding fat as it speeds up your metabolism. Metabolism is the amount of calories your body is able to burn or use during the day when you are resting. For instance, gaining an additional 1lbs of muscle burns approximately 60 calories more per day. The more muscle you have the more calories you will burn at rest. Therefore, when you decide to go on a diet you will be able to create a greater caloric deficit..


Macronutrients; Carbohydrates, fats and proteins differ in many ways. The biggest difference is the functions that they perform in our body and how much energy that they provide. All three macro-nutrients assist with weight loss. Carbohydrates will provide energy to conduct hard training sessions, so you’ll be able to burn more calories in a day. Fats provide more energy than any other macro-nutrient and are required in many bodily functions. Proteins help to maintain muscle mass that helps burn more calories per day.

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Recommended articles: Do proteins grow muscle only?, All about the carbs!, and Do fats make you fat?

References (2019). Forbes Nutrition – Customized nutrition counselling and education. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Nov. 2019]. (2018). Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fats, and Blood Sugar. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Nov. 2019].

Sawicka, P. (2019). All about the Carbs! – Nutrition2Change. [online] Nutrition2Change. Available at: [Accessed 6 Nov. 2019].

Sawicka, P. (2019). Do fats make you fat? – Nutrition2Change. [online] Nutrition2Change. Available at: [Accessed 6 Nov. 2019].

Sawicka, P. (2019). Do proteins only grow muscle? – Nutrition2Change. [online] Nutrition2Change. Available at: [Accessed 6 Nov. 2019].

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